Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 5, NO. 1 / MAY 1986

product reviews


Datasoft/H.P. Software
19808 Nordhoff Place
Chatsworth, CA 91311
(818) 886-5922
$23.95, 48K disk

Reviewed by David Plotkin

Zorro is a graphic arcade/adventure featuring multiple screens, puzzle solving and arcade action. It is well implemented, but there's very little to distinguish it from other games of this type. Still, if your collection doesn't include a game like this, you may want to consider getting Zorro.

The familiar storyline has the beautiful senorita kidnapped by evil Sargeant Garcia, Zorro's traditional nemisis. Zorro must travel through 20 different screens to rescue her. In the course of his travels, the black-clad fighter for justice will have to use his trusty sword to defend himself against roving guards. Actually, Zorro seems to fight automatically. All you have to do is move the joystick back and forth and press the fire button at the right time to defeat the enemy.

The adventure portion of the game is better. Many parts of each screen are inaccessible unless you exit and reenter from another screen. You will also have to pick up keys to unlock doors, and recover items such as whiskey, money and a branding iron. You must figure out where and when to use these items to solve the screens. Some cleverly designed trampolines must be used to get to certain levels of each screen which cannot be reached any other way. The multiple-level screens contain ladders, trees you can climb on and chasms to leap across.

Zorro has its frustrations. The imprecise joystick control can cause you to miss jumps. You may have to traverse several screens before you can try the jump again. Missing a jump in one of the underground caverns is fatal and these screens are very unforgiving.

The graphics are reminiscent of another Datasoft game, Bruce Lee. In fact, the main problem with this game is that it is similar to so many others, but not as much fun to play. The arcade action is not very challenging and the screen puzzles will challenge only the novice.


Signal Computer Consultants
P.O. Box 18222, Dept. 2
Pittsburgh, PA 15236
(412) 655-77271
$25, 16K disk or cassette

Reviewed by Jack Mindy

Looking for an arcade-style game, with heavy-duty graphics and plenty of shoot'em-up action? This isn't it.

Looking for a game that keeps you hopping for half an hour and leaves you tired but happy? This is it.

Train Dispatcher has no "lives" for you to lose, no enemy except time, no collisions, explosions or other disasters. Just a bunch of trains that you dispatch along a 150-mile portion of a major railroad. In the course of your eight-hour shift, which takes about a half-hour of real time, you might have as many as a dozen trains pass through your territory.

All you have to do is set the mainline track switches and set the signal lights which give the engineer permission to proceed. Sounds easy, huh?

However, you'll also have to check the official schedule and make sure a train isn't blocking the single-track mainline when it stops for 30 minutes to change crews. And you'd better make sure you don't have a train in a section that has to be closed down by the maintenance-of-way boys. Hmmm, this isn't as easy as it looked. All the information is displayed on two schedule screens that can be called up at any time, but...

I'II admit that I'm a real train buff. Model railroading was my big hobby until I bought my Atari 800 four years ago. Since then, the L-shaped 20x 20- foot model railroad I was building in the basement has become home to some insects, who haven't needed to worry about being run over by an HO scale locomotive. Nothing's run since the Atari moved in. So Train Dispatcher sounded like a good way for me to do some railroading without having to leave my computer desk.

The "game" itself is really no game, it's a simulation of just what a railroad dispatcher does for a living. He's a sort of landlocked air traffic controller. During the course of your half-hour shift there are very few moments when you can stop and catch your breath. And that's in the Visitor game. One can only imagine what the top level, Trainmaster, must be like. There's nothing like guiding a train from a double-track main into a single-track section, and finding the you've got another train headed onto the same track.

But Train Dispatcher is definitely not a game for someone who demands bells and whistles and graphics that make full use of the Atari's potential. The graphics are strictly business-like. But even though everything has a bare-bones feel, it really doesn't take anything away from the game. After all, this is like a simulation used to train railroad dispatchers. The main overview screen is patterned after a real railroad's CTC (Central Traffic Control) panel. Just a line indicates each section of track. Sorry, there is no choo-choo running around the screen.

The one incongruity among all this serious professionalism is the chorus of "I've Been Working On The Railroad" which greets the would-be dispatcher after you type RUN "D:DISPATCHER." For some reason, the disk does not autoload. And, yes, the instructions tell the user to type the full word DISPATCHER, even though it's over the 8-character limit for a filename. The computer just ignores the two excess characters.

Train Dispatcher comes with a nicely-printed booklet to get you familiarized with operating procedures. The middle pages of the booklet list the loading instructions and keystroke commands for the brand of computer you're using. Also included is a template to place on your keyboard. This is a great help for the first few times you play.

Some computer games are very complicated but don't hold your interest for long. Others like Train Dispatcher look simple and almost dull, but keep you coming back for more. It takes a clear mind to keep the railroad running smoothly. Yet a youngster can play and feel the satisfaction of a measure of success without the negativity of being shot, exploded, or gobbled up.

According to the brochure included with Train Dispatcher, Signal Computer Consultants will be releasing a Super Dispatcher simulation, a Northeast Corridor simulation with Metroliners and all, a Locomotive Switcher simulation with high-resolution graphics--and their only non-railroad offering, an underwater Sonar Search simulation. All these forthcoming programs are scheduled for 1986 release on Apple, IBM and Commodore, but NOT for Atari. Is it time for Antic readers to start writing letters again?


Covox, Inc.
675-D Conger Street
Eugene, OR 97402
(503) 342-1271
$85.95, 48K disk

Reviewed by Charles Cherry

The Voice Master is to sound what ComputerEyes is to pictures. It is a sound digitizer. The Voice Master grabs sounds and converts them into digital code which is stored in memory. Once in memory, the sounds can be manipulated in various interesting ways. Voice Master includes software for a unique music composer and surprisingly good speech recognition.

Demo programs include a talking alarm clock, a voice-recognizing calculator, and a blackjack game that talks and listens. These are fun, but their real value is in demonstrating the use of Voice Master in BASIC programs. It is very easy. The Voice Master gives you new BASIC keywords to access its features. This is great for Atari BASIC programmers, but it locks out those who use other languages, even BASIC XL/XE. I hope Cover will make another version of the software without the BASIC hooks.

Sound digitizing takes vast quantities of memory. Cover includes three different versions of the software to get the maximum out of 800, 800XL, and 130XE Atari models. They also provide three digitizing speeds so you can trade sound length for sound quality. At the medium speed (about 7,800 samples per second) the 130XE records around 9 seconds of sound and uses 64K.

The Voice Master is both software and hardware. There is a small box to plug into either joystick port 1 or 2 and a nice headset/microphone which allows hands-free talking to your computer. The package also includes the Voice Harp Composer, an interesting music program. Its features put it near most of the other commercial music software, but you can enter the music just by humming or whistling.

The Voice Master is not the first sound digitizer for the Atari, but it is the best I've seen. The record-playback quality is very decent, although not completely noise-free. The voice recognition routine (which is a first on the Atari) works very well. The Voice Master is a welcome addition to the Atari world. It has lots of possibilities.


MicroProse Software
120 Lakefront Drive
HuntValley, MD 21030
(307) 667-1151
$39.35, 48K disk

Reviewed by Dr. John Stanoch

Ten years later, the war in Vietnam still stirs up mixed emotions in many Americans. Conflict In Vietnam, the newest wargame simulation in MicroProse's Command Series, is likely to stir up those intense emotions more turbulently. But by bridging the gap between a computer game and an efficient learning tool, the carefully researched Conflict in Vietnam marks a rare standard for entertainment software.

Because of the hidden guerilla-warfare capability of the Viet Cong forces, and the political-military implications contained in this historic conflict, this game demands strategy and tactics totally different from any other computer wargame you have ever played. Players are given the opportunity to analyze five important military actions which occurred in Vietnam from 1954 through 1972. These include the battle of Dien Bien Phu, Ia Drang, Khe Sanh, Fish Hook (the Cambodia incursion) and finally, Quang Tri (the communist Easter Offensive in 1972).

This 0, 1 or 2 player game utilizes the highly playable "realtime" system seen in Microprose's Crusade In Europe and Decision In The Desert. Victory in each of the five scenarios depends upon the number of points each player receives for "casualties inflicted" and "geographic objectives captured." Each player has the option of controlling either the Free World or Communist forces. The Free World includes the French in Dien Bien Phu or the US and ARVN (South Vietnam) forces in the later scenarios. Communist forces include the Viet Minh in Dien Bien Phu and the NVA (North Vietnamese) and Viet Cong in the remaining scenarios. As in other Command Series games, balance of the forces can be adjusted prior to play and the game speed can be changed anytime.

Excellent graphics make it easy for players to identify the type of unit to which they are currently issuing orders. Well-executed icons portray communist infantry, mortar and artillery placement in all scenarios. In the Quang Tri scenario, Communist tank units are depicted as detailed renderings of T-55 tanks. The Free World forces are shown as infantry, armored cavalry, artillery, fighter and bomber aircraft. Three types of helicopters include attack, recon and air mobile choppers. Each scenario is played on a scrolling map ranging in size from 1 l/2 by 1 screen, to 2 1/2 by 2 screens. Since the game utilizes a realtime action system, unit responses occur continuously and almost simultaneously throughout the game. This speed helps in accurately simulating the kind of warfare waged in Vietnam, especially while playing the side of the US/ARVN. For example, during a game, I would locate a hidden Viet Cong unit with my recon helicopter and immediately order an intensive airstrike against it. However, many times the Viet Cong would slip away before the strike could be carried out. Although frustrating, it is historically correct.

I recommend this game to both wargamers and political history enthusiasts alike. With carefully researched documentation and historical notes, MicroProse's Sid Bever uses a computer wargame as a guided walk-through tour of history. Through "programmed text" documentation, the player chronologically develops a deeper understanding of the events during the 18 years of war covered by this game. After playing Conflict In Vietnam a number of times, I have a better understanding of what was really going on in Vietnam.


Electronic Arts
2755 Campus Drive
San Mateo, CA 94403
(415) 371-7171
$32.95, 48K disk

Reviewed by Michael Lasky

There's no denying that Movie Maker is one of the most powerful programs ever devised for the Atari. There is also no denying that MM is one of the trickiest to master. Once you have, though, this animation software is quite satisfying.

The program is ostensibly designed to walk you though the entire movie-making process. What you need is a joystick, 48K, two drives preferably (you can squeak by with one) and lots of patience for the detailed work to follow.

Previously published by Reston, the Electronic Arts version of Movie Maker has been somewhat re-edited. It now contains over 100 more clipart pictures plus three demonstration movies by big-name cartoonist Gahan Wilson. Because there are so many logistics which must be comprehended, you, the director, must rely on the instruction book to lead the way. Although the documentation has been improved, it is still not always clear and demands multiple meticulous readings. But, remember, this is moviemaking and few films get their scenes perfect in one take.

The single overiding obstacle is coordination. MM comes with a disk's worth of predesigned actors, background sets, sounds and shapes for the user to manipulate. And while you can get as many as six actors on the screen at once, each one's movements must be recorded individually. The actors--everything from a dog and a dragon to a human family--have their own built-in movements which you control from the keyboard. Cross screen movement, however, is operated by the joystick. I thought I had a defective program or a broken joystick for the first three hours until I discovered that pressing the [RETURN] key toggles the joystick directions for lefties and righties.

In the four menu-selected sections of MM, you use single and occasionally multiple keys for different effects. But sometimes the same letters have different purposes. For example, in the Compose sequence, pressing [A] means [A]ction for previewing a sequence. In the Record sequence, however, it stands for [A]ctor and must be used with a number from one to six.

This often proved confusing, especially in the beginning. The program is so crammed with functions that I am still finding new ones I didn' know existed--like typing [S]ave during the final play of a movie. This will save a frame from your production for later printing on a color or b/w printer.

Up to 300 frames of animation can be created and edited at one time. You can string a series of these "shots" on one disk for continued play and you can videotape them for continuous flow. There are 128 colors with four recordable color tracks and four tracks for sound effects. The sounds provided on the disk are limited and the ones on the original version are better than what Electronic Arts offers here. There is no capability for creating your own.

You can zoom at three different levels, fast forward, rewind, freeze frame and control the frame or flutter rate. Through trial and error you will find dozens of special effect combinations you can create with color and text. A special section gives you two complete screens for custom titles and credits which scroll handsomely on the screen before and after your masterpiece.

A help line located at the bottom of the screen is unfortunately so flush with the edge that if your TV or monitor suffers from overscanning, you will lose the line completely.

Another drawback is that with one disk drive, you will be constantly juggling three disks--the program, the data, and your production. As I said, moviemaking requires patience and perseverance.

MM will not train you to be the next Walt Disney, but it can give you a taste of what making animated films is like. It is definitely time-consuming hard work, but when you see those credits flash across your screen it is worth it.


Cygnus Software
P.O. Box 57825
Webster, TX 77598
(713) 486-4163
$49.95, 48K disk

Reviewed by Harvey Bernstein

Question: What combines the challenge of Star Raiders, the options of the best strategy games and the real life progression of a fantasy role-playing game? Answer: Star Fleet I from Cygnus, a small software house in Terras.

Up to now, I was convinced that the best new games would be for the ST series only, and we XL/XE stalwarts would have to make do with periodic releases from Infocom. Star Fleet I is the best strategy/role playing game in a long time and should particularly appeal to fans of the old BASIC Star Trek games.

For those unfamiliar with the genre, I'II explain. The basic plot has you commanding a starship in one section of the galaxy, usually made up of sectors in a 3-D grid. On patrol against enemy ships, you warp back and forth, using phasers and torpedos to wipe out opponents, docking at star bases for necessary repairs and fuel. This is also the core of Star Fleet I--but with so many other options that I can just touch on a few.

Tactics--Not only can you destroy enemy ships, you can also do just enough damage to disable them. You can then grab them with your tractor beam for delivery to the nearest Star Base, which may add a commendation to your service record. Or you can beam a party of marines aboard a disabled ship and transfer all its energy to your reserves, along with enemy prisoners.

Surprises--Of course, enemy prisoners may escape. Or a spy may beam aboard during refueling. In that case, you have a whole system of internal security to access in order to prevent sabotage. There's nothing worse than having your phasers suddenly go out while battling four enemy ships. Just as in Star Raiders, rescuing bases becomes imperative at the higher levels. Put all this together with two enemy technologies--one of which uses invisible ships--and you have a great game.

Documentation-Normally I don't think about it, but the documentation for Star Fleet I sets a new standard for games of this type. The box comes with a 98-page Officer's Manual that walks you through all the commands and background. Registered owners can send for a free Star Fleet Training Manual which provides further instruction on battle tactics, effective maneuvering, and the like. My only complaint is that since most people will find both books invaluable, and the second is free anyway, Cygnus may as well package it with the game.

One more thing--the role-playing aspect. Each game starts you as a cadet in training. As you successfully complete more complex missions, you advance in rank and earn commendations all of which are saved to disk. Therefore, you can't play at a level you have not been adequately prepared for--a nice touch!

As is typical with a game like this, the graphics are not outstanding. But they are functional with a minimum of animation. Yet Star Fleet I is so rich in and of itself that flashy graphics become almost superfluous. Star Fleet I is subtitled "The War Begins," which implies a sequel or sequels. Like many sequels, it will have a lot to live up to.